100 percent Indonesian

Having been founded through a rare inter-faith dialogue, and having bounced back from near collapse in 1995, Pekerti Foundation will celebrate its 35th birthday this August, and 35 years of working towards change for Indonesia’s poor. Foundation director Mochamad Ichwani lets us in on some history about the organisation that pioneered the Fair Trade movement in Indonesia.

Could you tell me about your history with Pekerti?
I joined Pekerti in 1989, as an Export Administrator. I then moved up to be head of the marketing division, then on to be the head of that same department. I became the director in 2009. At first, when I was asked about becoming the director, I was not interested. Because I see that Pekerti needs new people who are still fresh, with great ideas for reforming Pekerti (both activities of Marketing and Community Development) and the Fair Trade movement. But (board member) Mr. Wahyu and Mr. Imam (Director) explains the difficulty finding people like that and more right taken away from people inside of Pekerti. Finally, they were able to convince me, and I am glad they did.

What do you remember about 1989’s Pekerti?
Well, back then everything was done manually — we did not have a modern computer system until 1997. A number of staff who still work here today were there before me.

What first attracted you to the organization?
I love crafts. The products here were very interesting, and I wanted to buy them all! When working in marketing I worked with so many people, especially producers, who were having problems with quality, capacity and delivery time. It was really interesting to me to try to solve them, and help them with problems they were having.

What has stayed the same at Pekerti Foundation? What has changed?
Our vision and mission, I feel, has always been essentially the same, but it was documented in 1997.

Physically, we have always kept our office in East Jakarta. We stay in East Jakarta because it is less prone to flooding, and we have lots of products, so if there is a flood in our office, can you imagine that? Having said that, we have moved many times. Another reason was so that employees are not getting too far from home to where he works, because if the location is outside of Jakarta – we had survey an office in Bekasi area – it can make employees be forced to resign by reason of the location was too far away.

The one strategy change that comes to mind is in product development. In 2000 we were asked to go to Frankfurt to display our products. We went, and there was no interest whatsoever. Our stuff was not interesting, overpriced and only some products were good quality. It was very sad. When we got back from Frankfurt, we decided to work on the cheaper products. We wanted it cheap, simple and 100 per cent Indonesian materials, and we have succeeded at doing that now.

Tell me about the poor financial situation Pekerti was in, in 1995.

Collective mismanagement, there were not enough checks and balances in the finance department and productivity was low. So we have had to build ourselves back up from that and change our policy and soon after the Asian Financial Crisis hit, which we made it through well.

How have you seen the Fair Trade movement evolve in Indonesia over the past 35 years?
I feel like we are still really waiting for the Fair Trade movement to evolve in Indonesia. Even we supported to establish Apikri and trained their staff in 1989, they have since become an independent organization, to broaden the effect of Fair Trade, but the publics in Indonesia are not yet aware.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave as director of this organization?
I would like to see Pekerti and our assisted producers becoming a full Fair Trade organization/producers and complying with all the Standards of Fair Trade as best we can, things like having enough safety standards in the office and teaching our producers how to use the standards, too. It can be costly, but we are doing that now.

Ultimately Pekerti wants to remain a small organization. I hope that Pekerti in the future will become an organization that can continuously develop themselves to work within the principles of Fair Trade and invites all people, especially the producers and Pekerti’s networks to also conduct its activities according to the Fair Trade principles, so this activity is not just a slogan only